There weren’t any dramatic last-minute shots, or devastated players crumpling to the court. There weren’t any shouts, or disbelieving glances at the scoreboard.
But there wasn’t an upset, either. There wasn’t a rush onto the court, and there weren’t a few overjoyed players celebrating the sort of statement victory they’ve been seeking all season.
The quiet ending of GW’s loss to No. 18/19 (AP/USA Today) Saint Louis didn’t tell the whole story. As the two teams left the court, the Billikens walked away with a 66-58 victory. The Colonials walked away knowing they had, at one point, possessed a slim lead that brought with it the potential for an unexpected victory.
“Up three with seven minutes left, with three timeouts left, I thought we were in great shape,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “And we definitely had trouble getting to the line, trouble scoring. So once they got that lead, it’s hard.”
As Saint Louis got out to an early 6-0 start, the Colonials (12-15, 6-8 A-10) struggled to get inside. Shot after shot was stuffed, and the team’s post play suffered.
But after the first media timeout, GW seemed to take the court with renewed energy, feeding off freshman forward Kevin Larsen and senior forward Isaiah Armwood. Larsen exploded for 10 first-half points, while Armwood patrolled the post, pulling down six boards. It was enough to push GW to a 20-14 first-half points-in-the-paint advantage, critical against the Billikens’ more successful shooters.
Up six at halftime, Saint Louis gleaned much of its strength from two shooting areas where it was able to dominate GW: from three and from the charity stripe. The Billikens made four treys over the course of the first, and further widened the gap thanks to GW’s 3-for-7 line on free throws.
“Their guards were actually straight line driving us, taking us to the rim,” Lonergan said. “I knew in the second half, we were going to try to play some 1-3-1 to keep that from happening. Because we can’t get enough help the way their bigs shoot threes. Their bigs play like guards.”
Out of the break, the Colonials refocused on attacking their opponent, turning on the sort of pressure that’s stymied them so many times this season.
Switching into a more physical style, GW was able to disrupt Saint Louis’ game: setting screens, posting up and cutting down the Billikens’ ability to drive through the lane. It paid off: Saint Louis struggled to regain an offensive rhythm, and the Colonials took advantage of that on the other end rising a 16-4 run to a slim one-point lead.
“We were trying to speed up the tempo with the 1-3-1, and really get the ball out of the shooter’s hands,” senior guard Lasan Kromah said.
And for a while, the game stayed that tight. As Saint Louis started to find ways around GW’s zone and through its double-teams, the two teams traded baskets. The lead volleyed back and forth, never by more than a point or two.
Slowly, though, the Billikens began to pull away. A trickle of scoring gradually turned into a stream, and combined with ill-timed Colonial turnovers, Saint Louis closed on a 21-10 run to put the game away.
“We were trying to play physical,” Lonergan said. “We missed some easy shots, our guys felt they were getting fouled. We just didn’t get any calls. It’s tough.”
Much of Saint Louis’ advantage came at the line. Though GW was able to control the perimeter more tightly, allowing just one three-pointer in the second half, the team was crippled by its 53.3 percent free throw shooting.
The Billikens shot 87.5 percent from the charity stripe – and scored many of those points down their crucial final stretch.
“I thought we just had some defensive breakdowns, and they had a lot of free throws,” Kromah said. “And they made a lot of free throws. And we were sending them to the line a lot.”
The Colonials found some offensive success in the paint, with Larsen leading the charge again for 14 points and four boards. Armwood recorded five blocks on the day, adding 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Dwayne Smith and Kromah added 10 and 12 points, respectively. The two were responsible for all but three of the Colonial bench’s points in the game, the sort of veteran presence Lonergan looks for in his seniors.
“We want to leave here saying that we did something for our school, something to remember in years going on,” Kromah said. “It’s really important for us. We try to get the young guys focused, too.”
But at this point in the season, moral victories can ring hollow.
With a postseason bid and a trip to Brooklyn on the line, Lonergan and his players want just one thing – for the final scoreboard to show a Colonial victory.
“This time of the season, there’s no time for a moral victory. We have to get some wins under our belt,” Kromah said. “These next two games are going to be really important for us.”